There will be times you will cry, you will feel like you are playing a game that you don’t know the rules to, and there will be times you will be downright angry. Seek out the help of others. Ask questions. Educate yourself.
It’s that time of year in our house that brings us to our knees. For a split second time stops. The dread stirs around us. The email came with the title: PL 3 YEAR EVALUATION/PARENT INPUT. Ugh, here was the school asking for our input to start P’s annual IEP review + this year is extra special with his three-year evaluation. That means additional testing, interviews, and meetings. I start rummaging around looking for last years IEP worried I might not find it. I want to feel confident, but this is the time of year when my child’s deficits are laid out bullet point by bullet point. It is another reminder of his ongoing struggles. Struggles that he tackles head-on every day with strength, knowledge, humor, and some silliness along the way. However, the school doesn’t always see it my way…or his way. So, every year and hundreds of time in between, I repeat to myself, “If I won’t advocate on my child’s behalf who will?”
From the infancy of our parenting of school-age children, we have sat through all sorts of meetings, get-togethers, huddles, powwows, talks, hooplas, and one-on-ones for our boys. In the slew of our meetings, the first few were cleverly named P-A-T-T (Parents and Teacher Together) or W-A-T (We Are Together). All in the hopes to scope us out to see how involved we were going to be and/or how we as parents would react to the news they were going to lay out on the table. Once our school learned that my husband and I weren’t going to throw a fit hearing our children were struggling in school, because hey we live with them 24/7, so the news they had to share really wasn’t news to us. And secondly, we always expressed interesting in partnering with the school staff to help our children experience success. So, they dropped the cutesy named meetings. Our schools learned very quickly that I was going to advocate and continue to advocate on behalf of my children.
I want to share some tips on how to confidently and passionately advocate for your child. There will be times you will cry, you will feel like you are playing a game that you don’t know the rules to, and there will be times you will be downright angry. Seek out the help of others. Ask questions. Educate yourself on the special education laws. Let those emotions and your education drive you to seek out the services that your child needs for success in school.
- Remember you are on the same team. It might feel intimidating when extra staff becomes involved in your children’s care. Therapists, facilitators, counselors, directors, managers, psychologists, principals, and teachers all gather together around the table. The team is assembled. It can feel nerve-wracking but remember these are just titles. Everyone is gathered around the table to plan a course of action for your kiddo. You, as the parent, are a vital part of the team. A parent’s perspective is invaluable and something only you can bring to the table. So don’t be intimidated. Fake it if you must.
- Be prepared with what you want to share. You will be inundated with questions and paperwork. You will be asked to talk about what you are seeing at home. How do you handle situations at home? What works best? What is a struggle? What is your routine? Maybe you haven’t really thought about what works best or what is a battle in your home. Because you just do it. Once you can openly talk about those questions, you will be able to bring that information to the IEP meeting. Also, don’t hesitate to ask questions. It is essential to make sure you fully understand your child’s program, current levels of academic achievement, and accommodations. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, request a further evaluation or express your disagreement.
- Bring someone with you to the IEP meeting. Support is best from a partner/spouse or another family member. Maybe you need an advocate that will help you and coach you through the advocating process. IEP meetings can be stressful. Even though you are all on the same team, the team may not agree on the best approach. Learn some ways to defuse some tense situations. Through it all, it is nice to have a friendly face beside as you to help you stay calm and collected.
- Get to know the team. Relationships are key. Get to know your children’s teachers by saying hello at pick up or drop off. An email to the school psychologist or therapist inquiring about how your child doing during the school day helps to develop the communication that is key for a successful working partnership. Encouraging discussion about matters big or small enables you to be part of resolving small issues before they snowball. Plus, there is less chance of misunderstanding if everyone knows and talks to each other.
Bonus tip. Celebrate the victories both large and small. Our kiddos work so hard to overcome hurdles and obstacles. Passing the long division test. Tieing shoes. Star of the Week. Improved handwriting. Moving up a reading level. Citizenship Award. Find those times to celebrate. Whatever they may be and whenever they come. Our kiddos deserve a chance to be proud of the hard work they exude day in and day out.
Let me know if you have any additional tips on advocating for our children. I would love to read them!
All my best to you,